Editor’s note: The following is a profile from Sightline’s green-collar jobs primer. Read more about what makes a green-collar job and how we can create more in the Northwest.

Ben UskoskiBen Uskoski knew it was time to get out of the custom homebuilding business when he sold a 4,000-square-foot house on five country acres for less than it cost him to build it.

Electrical work ran in Uskoski’s family. He spent the early part of his career running electrical supplies and wiring homes and industrial plants. Once it became clear that the Northwest’s homebuilding boom had gone bust, he got re-licensed as an electrician.

In early 2009, he answered an ad for a Tacoma company that had work to spare retrofitting rental properties. Advanced Energy Management LLC had just gotten a contract with the King County Housing Authority to replace light fixtures and other appliances in public housing complexes with more energy-efficient models.

And it needed electricians fast. The agency expected an infusion of stimulus funding for energy efficiency work and wanted to have contractors ready to go.

It was a right-time, right-place moment for Uskoski, who has six young children. Not only did the 30-year-old find a job for himself, but he landed work for eight other laid-off electricians he knew from Clark County, WA.

  • “It was a huge opportunity,” Uskoski said, getting in on the ground floor of a lighting retrofitting business. “I think it’s a thing of the future where more and more it’s going to get busier and busier.”

    Advanced Energy Management, a start-up that launched in the fall of 2008, finds ways to shave wattage in multi-family apartment buildings or commercial spaces, changing out inefficient light fixtures or bathroom fans.

    While many energy efficiency incentive programs market to single-family homeowners, there’s vast, largely untapped job creation and energy saving potential in larger buildings, said owner Michael Kim.

    Retrofitting hundreds of apartments at a time requires more employees. Kim’s payroll has tripled since the beginning of 2009 to more than 20 electricians, and he expects work to get busier.

    “The whole gist of the stimulus package is getting the Average Joe back to work,” he said. “It’s pretty labor intensive to take out this old technology and put in new. It requires a lot of manpower.”

    Aside from the green jobs the work is creating, Kim said, it’s also benefiting low-income tenants whose budgets are least able to withstand wild swings in energy prices. The goal is to cut their electricity bills by 30 percent.

    After his own experience in the cyclical home building business, Uskoski considers himself lucky to be in on what feels like a recession-proof trade. As supply and demand for energy grows increasingly out of whack, conservation will only become more important, Uskoski said.

    “This seems like more of a long-term thing no matter what the economy is,” he said.